We have reached a point where three-fourths of PFF's top 75 free agents of 2016 have signed, meaning (for most NFL fans) that the exciting part of free agency is over. For those who love free agency, though, it’s never too early begin thinking about next offseason.
There are plenty of great veterans like Drew Brees and Steve Smith who are reaching the end of their contracts in 2016, but they likely won’t command the type of long-term deals players listed below will sign, so these are specifically players who are currently under the age of 28. This is also assuming that teams will pick up the fifth-year options on the best 2013 first-round draft picks.
Below are the top 10 offensive players set to hit free agency in the 2017 offseason, ranked by overall PFF grade in the 2015 season. While you can expect plenty of these players to re-sign with their own teams before free agency even hits in 2017, you can also look at this list as 10 players who should make a lot of money soon.
1. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
Jeffery (94.2 overall grade in 2015) was slated to hit free agency this year, but was given the franchise tag. Unless he can work out a long-term deal with Chicago, he will make a new team very happy on the first day of free agency in 2017. Ignoring the games where his playing time was limited due to injury, Jeffery was averaging 110.6 receiving yards per game, and would have been on pace for 114.2 receptions. He’s had fewer dropped passes in his career (14) than some wide receivers had in the 2015 season alone.
2. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
The NFL is shifting to a league full of running back-by-committees, and situations where there is a back for running downs and a back for passing downs. Le’Veon Bell (94.0) is one of the rare backs that can play 80 percent (or more) of his team's snaps each game. As a runner, he averaged 3.4 yards after contact per carry in 2015, which led the league. As a receiver, he has gone 42 straight receptions without dropping a pass. Assuming he makes a full recovery from injury, he should be the best running back in the NFL in 2016.
3. Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
In 2011, Doug Baldwin (91.1) was an undrafted free agent; he worked his way into the lineup as a slot receiver, and graded out well. Every year since, he has been one of the better slot receivers in the league, but in 2015, he stepped things up to another level. When Russell Wilson targeted Baldwin, the Seahawks were nearly perfect, with an NFL passer rating of 142.8—the best for a wide receiver with 95 or more targets in a season in our nine years of charting.
4. Terron Armstead, LT, New Orleans Saints
After receiving the starting job late in the 2013 season, Armstead (90.9) has improved each year to become one of the best left tackles in the NFL. In 2015 pass-protection, he recorded a pass-blocking efficiency of 97.2—only bested by Joe Thomas. He’s also improved as a run-blocker each year, with a PFF grade of 92.8 in run-blocking last season, second-best for tackles behind only Dallas' Tyron Smith. It should only be a matter of time before he makes the Pro Bowl every year.
5. Ryan Schraeder, RT, Atlanta Falcons
Currently, Schraeder (87.0) is a restricted free agent who was given a second-round tender. Assuming he signs it and doesn’t get a long-term deal, he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017. Schraeder was our highest-graded right tackle of the 2015 season; he matched Armstead in pass-blocking efficiency (97.2) after allowing just three sacks, two hits, and 20 hurries.
6. Cordy Glenn, LT, Buffalo Bills
Like Jeffery, Cordy Glenn (85.0) has been given the franchise tag. This means he will either sign a long-term deal with the Bills, or it’s unlikely he will get the franchise tag again. The Bills' left tackle allowed a sack or hit on one in every 138.8 pass-blocks, which was the second-best rate for left tackles in 2015 (just behind Joe Thomas).
7. Kamar Aiken, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Like Schraeder, Aiken (84.6) was a restricted free agent this offseason who received a second-round tender. Once Steve Smith went down with injury in 2015, Aiken became one of the more dependable receivers in the NFL. From Week 8 and on, he had a minimum of five catches and 48 yards each game. He has just six drops in his entire career. While he doesn’t have as long of a history of success, Aiken is more likely to hit the open market than others on this list due to the Ravens' cap situation in 2017, as well as the investments they’ve made at wide receiver.
8. Kevin Zeitler, G, Cincinnati Bengals
After being drafted in the first round in 2012, Zeitler (84.6) has played at least 800 snaps in all four years with the Bengals. Cincinnati picked up his fifth-year option this offseason, which will push him to 2017’s free-agent market. In all four seasons, he has graded above-average as a run-blocker and improved each year. He was the only right guard in 2015 with 500 or more pass-blocks and no sacks allowed.
9. Jordan Reed, TE, Washington
In three years, Reed (83.6) has only accumulated 1,538 career snaps, but when he’s on the field, he’s been one of the top receiving tight ends in the NFL. His 2.45 yards per route run was the best for tight ends in 2015, and he was dependable once the ball got to him, with only three dropped passes on the season. Reed also forced 16 missed tackles, tied for the most among tight ends last season.
10. David DeCastro, RG, Pittsburgh Steelers
While DeCastro (83.4) had a slow start to the season (as well as a slow end), he was the third best guard in football for the middle 12 weeks of the 2015 season, behind only Marshal Yanda and Richie Incognito. He is solid in both run- and pass-blocking situations, and is one of just 10 active guards with a PFF grade above 80.0 in both of those facets of play.